Whether it’s being a ruthless, historical war monger, having to tippy-toe kiss your model girlfriend, being tossed like a sack of socks for the cameras, or setting an NFL record for single-season passing yards while getting your ribcage rearranged by Sasquatch; These shorties are propelled to improbable greatness by haters and height discrimination.
Lil’ man gets the short end of the stick in life and football too. In the NFL, short quarterbacks are as rare as takin’ shorts in the hood. The list of signal callers under 6’0 is short. The list of successful QBs standing no taller than the extinct Anthropornis penguin, is even shorter .
The Seahawks 5-11 rookie Russell Wilson is the latest to join the exclusive class of 6-foot –and- under, barrier breakers. Mike Vick is barely 6’0. Vick was drafted No. 1 overall by the Falcons in ’01, and his crazy legs changed the QB position as much as his arm. In his prime, Vick was the most electrifying player in the sport.
Joe Theisman was 5’10, threw for over 25,000 yards and won a Super Bowl with the Redskins in the 80s. Get this: Theisman threw to a group of deadly mini-receivers called The Smurfs. Old school dudes like HOF QB Fran Tarkenton (6’0), three-time passing champ Sonny Jurgensen (5’11) and Doug Flutie -- the five-foot assassin with the ruffneck business – were other rare exceptions.
Flutie was 5’9 1/2, but his spirit and relentless nature had a Tebow-like affect on the NFL during stints with the Bears, Pats, Bills and Chargers.
Despite having a prolific college career, NFL execs didn’t come knocking. Flutie was selected in the 11th round of the 1985 NFL Draft, making him the lowest drafted Heisman winner in history. Because of size concerns, Flutie was forced to play in the USFL and then the CFL, where he smashed records and eventually got a chance to play – and succeed in the NFL -- going 38-28 as a starter. Flutie’s pro career wasn’t dominant (86 career TD passes), but he was a trend setter, and always played with a wreckless sense of urgency. He had no choice. The quick hook was always in effect, and Flutie feels it stunted his development. It’s the biggest issue he has with the way the NFL treats its little people, something he conveyed to NFL.com, this summer:
“I just think that they don't, in general, give the (short quarterbacks) the opportunities or stick with them…If you don't have success right away, you're out the door. If he were the 6’4 guy who was a true pocket passer, drafted in the first round and the franchise decided this is our guy, then he goes out and loses his first three or four starts -- they have patience with him. And that's my frustration with it."
NFL coaches and talent evaluators saw Flutie’s height as a detriment, particularly during the nasty, sack-sick 80s and 90s. Current QBs like Wilson and 6-foot phenom Drew Brees have advantages Flutie didn’t enjoy, like defensive rule changes and the spread offense, which allows QBs to utilize their legs and wider passing lanes, to avoid getting passes swatted by taller lineman. Flutie just jumped over and dipped around them, right into the hearts of American football fans.
Most short QBs are popular. People relate to them. Cats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning do GQ spreads because they are physically perfect. Flutie and Russell ball like Gary Coleman on steroids but look like gym teachers, and that’s a problem. NFL execs are like Hollywood producers, they want talent and physique.
Despite these setbacks, Flutie’s shining NFL moments and Wilson’s recent burst, has paved the way for the right undersized QB to get a legitimate shot at running a team and growing into success.
The NFL has a height-complex. NFL execs list the obvious stuff, like field vision and durability as reasons they clamor over 6’6, syzurp- sippin’ stiffs like JaMarcus Russell , and ignore cats like Flutie.
Wilson’s quick rise to QB of a Seahawks team fighting for an NFC West title is another blow to the “taller-is-better” philosophy. Maybe, being the highest drafted QB under 6’0, in at least15 years, helps other undersized passers get a shot. The numbers don’t exactly support it, yet, but only time will tell.
Before Wilson reached the 15-TD plateau this season, Flutie was the only other under 6’0 QB to do it since 1970. The infrequency of this leel production is probably why, since 2000, just six out of 26 QBs selected in the first-round have been under 6’3, while 15 of them have been over 6’3. In fact, since the 1970’s merger, there’s only been 8 QBs drafted that were shorter than Wilson.
It will take progressive minds like Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who coveted Wilson’s athleticism, decisive leadership and toughness. Carroll rolled the dice -- and some heads -- with his support of Wilson, who continues to muzzle doubters and fight the good fight for the little giants. It’s a polarizing topic. Lil’ QBs are rarer than black QBs and usually more dangerous than the Mafia. The ones that come up small can terminate a GM’s career; but the shorties that ball can murder defenses.